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The M12 Update

I seem to be saying this every set, but Magic 2012 is really sweet for pauper cubes. “The Pauper Cube” was originally a project called “The Pauper Multicolor Cube”. It played just like the train wreck you’re imagining.

Although I have better tools to use today (and could give a “multicolor cube” a second, better shot), this update marks another important milestone: I’ve trimmed five more multicolor cards from the cube.

Why trim five more cards? I want more consistency and less “gold gaffs” getting passed around. If cards aren’t getting picked or used then it’s time to rotate them, and the most underused cards for those requiring multiple colors.

The changes I’ve made are spicy, and I want to get right to it:

Here’s a cheat sheet of changes, with complete explanations below:

WHITE

Cut: Hyena Umbra
Add: Stave Off

Hyena Umbra was meant for two things:

  • Save a creature from future removal at the “shields down moment” risk of exposing yourself to a two-for-one. (Being only one mana meant that it was easier to play around removal or bait it into a counterspell.)
  • Help non-evasive utility creatures, like Civic Wayfinder, become more formidable.

In practice, Hyena Umbra served neither purpose: it was rarely played. While it would shine from time-to-time, the reality was that the Umbra just never made the difference.

Stave Off, as the newest member of the Shelter family, feels much better.  Still helps fight removal, still helps close games and make better trades, but now hides in your hand instead of sitting on-board to be played around. While we lose out on the potential mana efficiency of being able to cast it just when the mana is open, the surprise value can be much more devastating. As a bonus nearly every deck running White can put something like this to use, something Apostle’s Blessing has proven well.

Cut: Blinding Mage
Add: Gideon’s Lawkeeper

A 1-drop tapper is so much sweeter than a 2-drop tapper. The loss of one toughness is fairly irrelevant given that 1-drop tappers are brutal in aggro mirrors: either you burn your removal to take out their “removal,” losing tempo, or continue to play dudes and swarm over the defense, losing tempo as your best attackers and blockers are nullified.

Have I mentioned how sweet 1-drop tappers are? (Gavin Verhey recently leveraged Stormscape Apprentice in Winchester Draft. Blue-White is getting very powerful!)

Cut: Shade of Trokair
Add: Kabuto Moth

The Shade was an attempt to have more white 1-drops, but felt more like a clunky, fragile wall. The suspend never worked out well, and as a 1/2 4-drop it left a lot to be desired.

Kabuto Moth is something that seems similarly clunky, but that I’ve heard works really well in practice. Being able to add +1/+2 to a creature feels really nice when there’s so much burn dealing three damage. It also blocks like a champ, upwards of being a 2/4, and does it up in the air. Seems like another solid value-utility creature for the clever player.

BLUE

Cut: Sky-Eel School
Add: Chasm Drake

In a fast in-and-out cycling, Sky-Eel is being set aside for another, very similar creature. While the “loot effect” of “Draw a card, then discard a card.” is strong, even as just a one-time trigger, Chasm Drake is easier to cast and lifts a creature along with it on the attack, breaking stalemates and making combat more fun.

From my experiences with it in Draft so far, he’s stellar as a late game rip to punch through but feels as efficient as you’d like. Continuous value, even with something as marginal as repeatable Jump, is underrated.

Cut: Augury Owl
Add: Skywinder Drake

The Owl is certainly a fine card, and shifting up to three dead cards away for a fresh draw feels great. But a 1/1 with flying just didn’t do anything. Blue needs ways to attack better as a core color, and the third functional “3/1 with flying but can’t block non-flying” is so good I wrote three articles mentioning it as such.

Obsessed? Nah. Impressed.

Cut: Choking Tethers
Add: Frost Breath

Choking Tethers was meant to be a tool that helped slow the game down and give a breather to more controlling decks. It ended up being an uncounterable, defensive, cantrip tap effect for a single creature. It was unexciting, relatively weak, and awkward to play.

Frost Breath is a mini Sleep, shutting down two creatures for two combat steps; as a defensive spell, it’s great. But as an offensive it works just the same, and that blocker-clearing feature is something I’m looking forward to unleashing as well. Evasion isn’t the only way Blue can break a game open.

Cut: Looter il-Kor
Add: Plated Seastrider

This is perhaps the most questionable change, and it’s one I’m going to keep a close eye on. The Looter isn’t a bad card. In fact, given any piece of equipment the odds are fair that it will put the game away. Unblockable damage as you loot is solid, and protected by a few counterspells is a sweet spot to ride.

But our favorite Looter doesn’t block either. In trying to push Blue as a core color to draft, I’m trying out Plated Seastrider. Giant Tortoise version 2.0 is just the kind of roadblock a Blue deck needs. At four toughness it makes it much more difficult to be burned out.

If Blue is missing the card filtering that severely we’ll bring the Looter back, or reintroduce Merfolk Looter. I have a much healthier appreciation for that card after more than two boxes of Magic 2012 Winchester Draft.

BLACK

Cut: Innocent Blood
Add: Fume Spitter

I gave Innocent Blood a try. It never served its purpose well. Ideally, you pull the pants down on an opponent hiding behind a Guardian of the Guildpact or Calcite Snapper. Instead, you’d most often draw this into a locked or heated board, and have to decide if your worst creature was worse than your opponent’s worst. Awkward.

Fume Spitter is a 1-drop that comes as a removal package. This will almost always be handy, and leaving a -1/-1 counter behind makes the “chump block, sacrifice” option very sweet. Early or late, this guy is great.

Cut: Rotting Legion
Add: Mortis Dogs

As a shambling body of size, Rotting Legion rates in fairly high for Black in common. Coming into play tapped is a tempo short, but a 4/5 for just five is fine. It’s unexciting but relevant, able to take down a Stamping Rhino and unlive to tell the tale.

Mortis Dogs is a heroic little descendant of Hollow Dogs, but does so much more. Turn Giant Growth into a burn spell! Make equipment absolutely frightening! Is it almost Lava Axe or an overpriced Shock? The risk-reward feature of our favorite new Hound makes it a compelling card to play with or against. Attacking with Mortis Dogs is always an adventure, and I can’t wait to see where it goes!

RED

Cut: Dragon Fodder
Add: Gorehorn Minotaurs

I wanted to like Dragon Fodder. Originally meant to feed the devour mechanic of Jund, instead we made two 1/1’s that either chump blocked or died being blocked. That’s a pretty good deal for just two mana in Red, and Mogg War Marshal is a hero for his ability to defend, deter attacks, and slip in for a little damage. Just two dudes isn’t the same.

Gorehorn Minotaurs is a Hill Giant that can outperform Rhox Brute for the cost. Dropping a 5/5 into play is a stellar move, thanks to bloodthirst 2, but having “just” a 3/3 still works. Unlike Dragon Fodder, I’ll always be happy to cast this regardless of the board state: a 3/3 for four is “fair” and sufficient.

Cut: Hulking Ogre
Add: Blood Ogre

A 3/3 for three is just fine, but a 3/3 with first strike for three is a bargain. Hulking Ogre compares poorly to Blood Ogre, and that’s all the comparison we need.

Seriously. Blood Ogre is a beast!

GREEN

Cut: Hungry Spriggan
Add: Thundering Tanadon

Hungry Spriggan isn’t a bad card. In fact, it’s arguably better than one of the later additions I’ll discuss below. But green seems to be pulling its weight, and then some. What I want to do is subtly shift green to include more spells (a difficult task given green’s obvious creature-focused strengths at common) and subtly downgrade a select few creatures to be strong, but not the strongest (a slightly-easier-but-still-tricky task).

Thundering Tanadon is just such a slightly downward-lateral creature. It can be destroyed with artifact removal, “stolen” in drafts by non-green decks, and often comes with a two or four life payment. It’s a great creature, but much more risk-reward than the Spriggan.

Cut: Werebear
Add: Arachnus Web

Werebear has been a bit of an underperformer. Not the best at mana ramping, and all-too-often you’re shy of threshold. In a word: awkward.

Arachnus Web is a Green Arrest. When almost every creature in the cube has less than four power, Arachnus Web is as good as it gets.

Cut: Withstand Death
Add: Reclaim

Withstand Death has withstood two updates already, though it should have come out much sooner. It’s uninteresting and hasn’t served the purpose of providing excitement in combat as I would have liked. The weakest of the green combat tricks included, it was time to go.

Reclaim, however, is very interesting. Green already has one  recursion card (Evolution Charm), and Reclaim looks to be able to play much the same way. Unlike some recursion effects, this one can put anything back on top. Blue just got a powerful new card, whether it knows it yet or not.

MULTICOLOR

This section deserves a slight clarification upfront: multicolor is dying in my cube. It’s there, and it has some interesting things, but the section has been whittled away to a shadow of what it once was. At one time it was almost double the size of any individual color. Now, it’s slightly smaller.

Tuning the gold section of cubes is tough, but for an ardent supporter of multicolored cards it’s absolutely painful. Yet here we are. Making the right decision isn’t always sexy or appealing, and the on-going austerity measures for multicolor presence are absolutely correct.

Cut: Talon Trooper, Dimir Infiltrator, Kathari Bomber, Deadshot Minotaur, and Thrill of the Hunt
Add: Stonehorn Dignitary, Phantasmal Bear, Wring Flesh, Ruthless Invasion, and Trained Armodon

We are losing all of the following: a relatively weak creature with flying (Talon Trooper); a weak creature that never served as a tutor (Dimir Infiltrator); an awkward suicide critter (Kathari Bomber); a value-driven-but-often-cycled dud (Deadshot Minotaur); and a very weak pump spell (Thrill of the Hunt).

We are gaining the following: a unique and powerful effect for common (Stonehorn Dignitary); an aggressive-for-the-cost creature in a color that needs it (Phantasmal Bear); a combat-encouraging removal spell (Wring Flesh); a splashable blowout-maker for aggro (Ruthless Invasion); and another efficient body in the color full of them (Trained Armodon).

Stonehorn Dignitary is a unique effect on creatures at the common rarity. The four toughness ensures that he’ll be a solid backstop, and skipping a combat step as an “enters the battlefield” trigger ensure that bounce and Flicker-type shenanigans get stronger: Whitemane Lion, Kor Skyfisher, and Momentary Blink look even better.

Phantasmal Bear finally gives a solid 1-drop to Blue. While others exist, Blue’s first turn antics have primarily been of the Brainstorm variety. An early dude that can trade well is a welcome addition; getting in for a Shock or two of damage is even better.

Wring Flesh is a curious card. It’s not Disfigure, but it’s not something abysmal either. I suspect that Wring Flesh will become an under-the-radar removal spell, one that may not be picked over some aggressive bodies but can make a world of different for the right deck. Taking away three power is often all that’s needed to make a gang-block payout well. (Edit: I did it all for @nerdtothecore, Alex Ullman.)

Ruthless Invasion was a card I didn’t really use in Scars of Mirrodin Limited. There were too many artifacts far too often for it to actually bypass the opponent cleanly. More specifically, you every player basically played every Splicer from New Phyrexia that they could. You’re 1/1 can’t block? How fortuitous. In a more general pauper cube, however, this card is a slam dunk.

Trained Armodon is likely the most contentious point of this update. If I’m weakening Green slightly why am I adding another efficient body? I’m adding it because it’s a reasonable creature that can be replaced by Hungry Spriggan and others down the road. This guy is a safe pick that leaves room to go up. I wanted to make an update to Green without necessarily making it stronger, and this vanilla Elephant serves that purpose safely. The future is wide open.

And Then There Was None

What do you think? Is this update on track with your expectations? What did you, or would you, do differently? Most importantly: do you think I’m wrong? Share your thoughts and fire up the discussion!

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  1. Michael
    August 4, 2011 at 4:30 PM

    I understand you are trying to balance out green, but have you ever considered Aura Gnarlid? You have a lot of auras in the cube as removal, which are highly drafted anyway. He also has synergy with all the pump effects in the cube like equipment and giant growth effects. He seems like a much more interesting addition than a vanilla 3/3 for 3. He is a 2/2 for 3 that turns into an evasive powerhouse if you draft a good strategy around him.

    Maybe he is too powerful if your goal is to balance green, but he is certainly more interesting than Trained Armodon. He can go in aggro decks, but is also easily splashed (single green instead of double green) by the blue/white control deck, which I would imagine plays all the removal auras it can get. Nothing says finisher like a turn 8 aura gnarlid with arrest, narcolepsy, and a strider harness on board already.

    • September 21, 2011 at 8:01 PM

      I agree that Aura Gnarlid is more exciting. Green actually lacks straight evasion creatures, but it gets so many large guys with trample. This is an interesting compromise that I’ll throw out to the Spikier guys at the shop. If the idea seems to gel with them I’ll run a few numbers and make a post. Thanks for the idea!

  2. August 8, 2011 at 7:37 AM

    Good update imho. In my Common/Uncommon-cube, I have performed many of these changes either exactly the same (Choking Tethers -> Frost Breath feels just so good) or slightly differently. I cut Dragon Fodder for the reasons you listed, same goes for Shade of Trokair and Innocent Blood and I’m really thinking about Werebear right now.

    I have the same troubles watering down a color, but in my case, it’s black that is overpowered. My buddy and I played through the whole cube twice, mostly Winston Draft, and we used like 50 to 65 of each basic land except for swamps, which counted up to 90. Skinrender, Shriekmaw, Incremental Blight, Final Revels, Terror, Smother, Doom Blade, Go for the Throat, Dismember, Hymn to Tourach are all more or less firstpickable black cards and man, that’s a lot. I guess I’ll cut Final Revels and Go for the Throat (feels weird when the only playable big Aritfact Creatures are Darksteel Sentinel and Hexplate Golem..) for Vendetta and some aggro dude.

  3. September 3, 2011 at 11:56 AM

    One thing I noticed: I used to like Stonehorn Dignitary, until I compared it to Teroh’s Faithful. Early, it’s about the same (except they can still block if you use the Dignitary) and you don’t want to wait with a 1/4 dude either.

    • September 21, 2011 at 7:57 PM

      I like stopping combat completely. It buys turns when lethal is on board. That said I haven’t been very impressed by the Dignitary, and a different common from Innistrad looks like the right replacement. I’ll share later!

  4. September 12, 2011 at 7:48 AM

    do you try Oubliette or Rukh Egg in your Pauper Cube?

    • September 21, 2011 at 7:56 PM

      Oubliette is a Black Journey to Nowhere, but more expensive and odd. Black is better than just killing things outright, but a deeper cube could find it very useful. Rukh Egg I’ve considered, but the lack of sacrifice outlets makes justifying it tough. Roc Egg is played around in Magic 2011 and Magic 2012, but there are a few Innistrad goodies that could help out here. Good thoughts!

  5. Matthias
    September 14, 2011 at 1:51 PM

    Hi,
    I like the updates you made and I like your philosophy of strengthening consistency and color identiy. However I have my doubts about Guardian of the Guildpact. We’ve found the card to be absurd as most of the time it just has “protection from everything” and will thus singlehandedly win games. Now you’ve removed 5 multicolored cards and Innocent Blood, thus further reducing the cards that could possibly handle the Guardian. I thus imagine that he’s still more absurd. Or am I wrong?

    • September 21, 2011 at 7:52 PM

      Not really. The only creature that could outright block and kill Guardian was Deadshot Minotaur. There is a considerably higher artifact present thanks to New Phyrexia, and I will be keeping an eye on Guardian. It’s considerably deadlier in Winchester, but I’ve been able to draft against it even there. Innocent Blood never seemed to kill what you wanted to kill anyway.

  1. October 17, 2011 at 1:47 AM

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